In the newest Steam client update, Valve added a bunch of new features but the one that most users will find the most useful is the re-imagined chat experience, which just came out of beta. The friends list, chat, and voice call experiences have all been vastly improved and they no longer require you to be running the Steam client as they can be used via a web browser alone, very handy for the times you’re away from your gaming computer.
The friends list has been completely redesigned to give users more information and to help better organise their contacts. Here are the new features:
Favourites: Keep your favourite friends, groups, and chats right at the top of your friends list, making it easy to check in on what you care about.
Group chats: Easily pull friends together for a quick chat or create a larger, more persistent group based on what you play or talk about. Group chats can be found at the bottom of the friends list.
Rich presence: Game developers can show you details such as where friends are in a game, if they’re involved in a match, whether they’re available for matchmaking, and what party they’re playing with.
Grouped by game: Your in-game friends are now grouped by the game they’re playing, making it easier to join them, or to see which games are popular among friends.
Grouped by party: This lets you see which friends are playing together. You can watch friends enter into a match then get ready to dive in with them when they’re done.
Aside from the new friends list, the chat experience has been radically updated to better suit the modern day. Now, users can send YouTube clips, SoundCloud audio, Tweets, pictures, and more. To turn your individual conversation into a group chat, you can just drag friends from your friends list into the chat to make it a group. Then, if you like the new group you’ve made, you can save it and assign a title and avatar so that you can chat or play together later on with minimal fuss.
Channels can also be created as separate entities from groups. While they’re pretty similar, channels can be spawned if a group of you decide to jump into a game, they’re easy to leave once you’re done too.
The last big improvement is voice chat. Valve have built this functionality so that you get great quality audio thanks to the WebRTC-based backend but also benefits from the fact that voice traffic is encrypted. Another perk is that traffic goes through Steam’s servers rather than peer-to-peer; this protects your IP address from those who might want to try and find your location or attack your network.
Please be aware that if you're still running Windows XP or Windows Vista, you'll need to upgrade your system to use these new features. Steam will stop working on those two operating systems at the start of 2019 altogether, too.